Thongsuk overcomes Russian's two world marks

Originally Published: August 20, 2004
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Natalia Zabolotnaia of Russia set the world records. Pawina Thongsuk of Thailand got what counted: the Olympic gold medal.

Thongsuk, 11 pounds lighter than most of the other competitors, shrugged off two world record-setting lifts by the 19-year-old Russian to come back and win the gold in 165-pound (75kg) weightlifting Friday.

The two tied with world-record total weights of 601 pounds (272.5kg), but all ties are broken on body weight and this wasn't close. Thongsuk could have dropped less than a pound and competed Thursday at 152 pounds (69kg), while Zabolotnaia weighed slightly less than the 163-pound weight limit.

"I was at 69 but I moved up to 75 because I hoped to have a chance to get the gold," Thongsuk said. "It was the correct decision by my coach and team manager."

Valentina Popova, also of Russia but nearly 13 years older than Zabolotnaia, took the bronze.

Thongsuk had never lifted above the 152-pound class, but Thai coaches didn't want her to have to go against Olympic 152-pound champion Liu Chunhong for a gold. Liu's total of 606 pounds (275kg) was 5 pounds more than Thongsuk lifted in the higher weight class, and Liu won Thursday without even having to take her final lift.

"I was not afraid of Liu," Thongsuk said. "But I had a chance to get the gold medal at 75."

A Thai woman had never won an Olympic gold medal until the Athens Games, but now the country known as the Land of Smiles is all smiles with two weightlifting golds in less than a week. Udomporn Polsak won Sunday at 117 pounds (53kg).

Thailand, a country that is smaller than Texas, now has three Olympic weightlifting medals, including a bronze; the United States has yet to have a weightlifter place even in the top 10.

Thongsuk came from behind to win in the clean and jerk after Zabolotnaia, trying to become the third 19-year-old gold medalist in as many Olympic weightlifting events, set a snatch world record of 275 pounds. Thongsuk had lifted 270 pounds minutes before.

Despite Zabolotnaia's record lift, Thongsuk took the lead by raising 319 pounds (145kg) in the clean and jerk. Zabolotnaia seized it right back by putting up 325 pounds (147.5kg), but

Thongsuk, a 2002 world champion, came right back by lifting 330 pounds (150kg).

That forced Zabolotnaia to take a strategic gamble that failed and may have cost her the gold.

Rather than matching Thongsuk's 330 pound lift, which could have given her the gold, she tried 336 pounds (152kg) -- and missed. That meant Thongsuk was assured of the gold even if she missed her final attempt in the clean and jerk, and she did, failing at a world-record 336 pounds (153kg).

Had Zabolotnaia made the 330-pound lift, which she seemed capable of doing, Thongsuk would have been forced to lift 336 pounds (152.5kg) to win -- just slightly less than the weight she didn't come close to raising.

Zabolotnaia tried some equestrian events, of all things, before becoming a weightlifter 5 years ago. She was in tears throughout the medal ceremony and press conference, no doubt realizing how close she came.

Thongsuk's gold backed up Thai amateur weightlifting chief Intarat Yodbangtoey's pre-Olympic prediction that his country would win more than one women's gold medal.

"Everybody is celebrating now in Thailand," he said. "Every TV in Thailand is on for this."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press